Friday, June 13, 2014

The Friday Flyby -13 June

This is the story of the 44th Bombardment Group and it is a tale of...


Yes, I know that's an F-22A Raptor assigned to the 44th Fighter Group, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., flying over the Nevada Test and Training Range for a training mission during Red Flag 11-3, 2 March 2011.

Yes, I know the difference between a fighter group and a bombardment group. In this particular instance, the one evolved over time into the other. So to speak.
Back during World War II, the 44th was known as the Flying Eight Balls, what are they now? The same!

Okay, yeah I know, now they're the Flyin' Eight Balls. Not much difference, but you know how the fighter jocks are, everythin' gets abbreviated and TIAA (Turned Into An Acronym).

Let's have a look at the Eight Balls in WWII, shall we?

Painting by Robert Taylor 
Yes, the 44th went on the Ploești raid in 1943 (which was the subject of a Flyby earlier this year). Back then they were commanded by a fellow named Leon W. Johnson, that would be Colonel Johnson to me. He was one helluva commander! (I should mention that there are a number of good photos of the 44th here and here.)

Col Johnson shortly after being awarded the Medal of Honor

His citation reads -

For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on August 1, 1943. Col. Johnson, as commanding officer of a heavy bombardment group, let the formation of the aircraft of his organization constituting the fourth element of the mass low-level bombing attack of the 9th U.S. Air Force against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries. While proceeding to the target on this 2,400-mile flight, his element became separated from the leading elements of the mass formation in maintaining the formation of the unit while avoiding dangerous cumulous cloud conditions encountered over mountainous territory. Though temporarily lost, he reestablished contact with the third element and continued on the mission with this reduced force to the prearranged point of attack, where it was discovered that the target assigned to Col. Johnson's group had been attacked and damaged by a preceding element. Though having lost the element of surprise upon which the safety and success of such a daring form of mission in heavy bombardment aircraft so strongly depended, Col. Johnson elected to carry out his planned low-level attack despite the thoroughly alerted defenses, the destructive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, the imminent danger of exploding delayed action bombs from the previous element, of oil fires and explosions, and of intense smoke obscuring the target. By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, Col. Johnson so led his formation as to destroy totally the important refining plants and installations which were the object of his mission. Col. Johnson's personal contribution to the success of this historic raid, and the conspicuous gallantry in action, and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty demonstrated by him on this occasion constitute such deeds of valor and distinguished service as have during our Nation's history formed the finest traditions of our Armed Forces.
Colonel Johnson's Medal of Honor Ceremony
44th Liberators taxiing out for a mission
Not everybody got off okay

High level over Ploești, Romania
Low level over Ploești, Romania
Inbound or outbound, it's hard to tell.
I don't know how many of this 44th crew got out.
Bombers of the 44th - B-24 "Puritanical Bitch" - 68th Squadron
(I wonder who she was named for? Hopefully not the pilot's wife!)

One rather interesting aircraft which belonged to the 44th was a bird named "Lemon Drop." She survived all her missions and was "retired" to become the group's black and yellow striped assembly ship. 

Lemon Drop's Nose

Assembly ships were painted in bright and obvious colors. These guys would take off and wait at the assembly point for the rest of the group to form up. The bright colors made it easier for the aircrews to spot their group once airborne. After the group formed up and headed to the target. The assembly ship would head home. Hence the term "retired."

Waist gunners on a 44th B-24, typically these guys were sergeants.
Maintenance guys on a 44th B-24, typically these guys were sergeants.
(Hint, hint, the sergeant's got to do a lot of "heavy lifting" back in the day!)
World War II 44th Bomb Group Commanding Officers

  • Col. Frank H. Robinson - -  April 1, 1942 to January 4, 1943
  • Col. Leon W. Johnson - -   January 4, 1943 to September 2, 1943
  • Lt. Col. James T. Posey - - September 3, 1943 to December 3, 1943
  • Col. Frederick R. Dent - - - December 4, 1943 to March 29, 1944
  • Col. John H. Gibson - - - -  March 29, 1944 to August 15, 1944
  • Col. Eugene H. Snavely - -  August 15, 1944 to April 13, 1945
  • Col. Vernon C. Smith - - - - April 13, 1945 to June 1, 1945
Squadrons assigned to the 44th were: the 66th Bombardment Squadron, the 67th Bombardment Squadron, the 68th Bombardment Squadron and the 506th Bombardment Squadron.
A history of the 44th in World War II (Wikipedia) -
Activated 15 January 1941 at MacDill Field Florida. Received first B-24, and later B-24C. Moved Barksdale Field, La. on 16 February 1942 and acted as training unit for 98th, 93rd, and 90th Bomb Groups. During same period took part in anti-submarine patrols over the Gulf of Mexico and was credited with the destruction of one U-boat. On 26 July 1942 they moved to Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma, and prepared for overseas movement. Ground echelon left by Queen Mary on 4 September 1942 for Grenier Field in NH, and remained there until the first aircraft left for the United Kingdom late in September 1942. The 404 Bomb Squadron originally part of the Group was reassigned while in the United States.

In England, the group was assigned to the VIII Bomber Command 14th Combat Bombardment Wing, and the group tail code was a "Circle-A". Initially stationed at RAF Cheddington, the group was moved ot RAF Shipdham in October 1942.

The 44th Bomb Group's operations consisted primarily of assaults against strategic targets in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Romania, Austria, Poland, and Sicily. Among the targets attacked were submarine installations, industrial establishments, airfields, harbors, shipyards, and other objectives, November 1942 – June 1943.

The unit received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an extremely hazardous mission against naval installations at Kiel on 14 May 1943: Its B-24's flew in the wake of the main formation and carried incendiaries to be dropped after three B-17 groups had released high explosive bombs, thus the group's aircraft were particularly vulnerable, lacking the protection of the firepower of the main force. This vulnerability increased when the group opened its own formation for the attack; but the 44th blanketed the target with incendiaries in spite of the concentrated flak and continuous interceptor attacks it encountered.

Late in June 1943 a large detachment moved to North Africa to help facilitate the Allied invasion of Sicily by bombing airfields and marshalling yards in Italy. The detachment also participated in the famous low-level raid on the Ploesti oil fields on 1 August 1943. The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its part in this raid and its commander, Colonel Leon W. Johnson, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his daring and initiative in leading his men into smoke, flame, and alerted fighter and antiaircraft opposition over the target, which already had been bombed in error by another group.
Before returning to England at the end of August, the detachment bombed an aircraft factory in Austria and supported ground forces in Sicily. In September 1943 the group struck airfields in the Netherlands and France and convoys in the North Sea. Also in September, a detachment was sent to North Africa to support the Salerno operations.

This proved to be the 44th's last detachment and in October when several new B-24 groups were arriving in Norfolk, the 44th was fully committed to the combined bomber offensive from the UK. From November 1943 to April 1945, the group carried out operations against targets in western Europe, concentrating on airfields, oil installations, and marshalling yards.

The group took part in the intensive campaign of heavy bombers against the German aircraft industry during Big Week, 20–25 February 1944. The group flew support and interdiction missions. Struck airfields, railroads, and V-weapon sites in preparation for the Normandy invasion; supported the invasion in June 1944 by attacking strong points in the beachhead area and transportation targets behind the front lines. The group aided the Caen offensive and the Saint-Lô breakthrough in July. Dropped food, ammunition, and other supplies to troops engaged in the airborne attack on the Netherlands in September. The group also helped to check the enemy offensive during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 – January 1945, by striking bridges, tunnels, choke points, rail and road junctions, and communications in the battle area. The group attacked airfields and transportation in support of the advance into Germany, and flew a resupply mission during the airborne assault across the Rhine in March 1945.

The 44th Bomb Group flew its last combat mission on 25 April 1945. During the course of hostilities, the 44th flew a total of 343 missions and its gunners were credited with 330 enemy fighters shot down and its own losses, highest of any B-24 group in the Eighth, were 153.

Redeployed to the US June 1945. First of the air echelon departed the United Kingdom on 22 May 1945. Ground echelon sailed on Queen Mary on 15 June 1945, arriving in New York on 20 June 1945. Personnel had 30 days R and R with some assembling in Sioux Falls AAFd, South Dakota.
Did you note the number of missions, kills and losses above? The 44th was in the thick of it!

For a short period the 44th belonged to SAC, it was inactivated when the Air Force went to a different organizational structure in 1952.

In 1991 the old 44th was re-activated as the 44th Operations Group on 1 September under the "Objective Wing" concept adapted by the Air Force. (Yet another re-org, we airmen liked reorganizing as much as we liked changing our uniforms with every new Chief of Staff. Oh well, suck it up Sarge, it's why you received a clothing allowance!) The ICBM squadrons of the renamed 44th Missile Wing were reassigned to the newly established group, along with the lineage, honors and history of the 44th Bombardment Group. (From bombers, then to missiles, what's next? Oh wait... I know the answer to that one.)

All this only to be "inactivated" three years later in 1994. (I was in Germany, I had no control over any of this. Oh yeah, like I had a say in all this!)

But then lo, and behold in 2010 the Air Force needed the 44th to step up again.
On 9 April 2010, the 44th Fighter Group, Air Force Reserve Command was activated at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The 44th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 301st Fighter Squadron also were activated during the ceremony as part of the fighter group.

The 44th FG is one of only two Air Force Reserve organization to be selected to fly and maintain the F-22 Raptor. The FG recently added 44 FG Detachment 1, which assists in the training of Pilots and Sensor operators for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft. Wikipedia
Oh look Tuna! They also do drones! (Be still my beating heart, I can barely contain myself!)

The Raptor in full grunt!
MQ-1 Predator Drone
MQ-9 Reaper Drone
The inactivation of the 44th Missile Wing, at one time whose headquarters was in the Pride Hangar,
brought a close to a key chapter in the history of Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.,  a time of
heightened vigilance during the Cold War that began 1962. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
From bombers, to missiles, to drones and fighters. I guess you can say that the 44th has "been there, done that" and with well-deserved pride. Let's hear it for the 44th!


  1. Very Interesting! Bombers to Fighters in lineage, well that's certainly a step in the right direction! Just Kidding! While I can't disagree that "the sergeant's got to do a lot of "heavy lifting" back in the day", I'm pretty sure that's still the case in this day and age.
    As always, another great Flyby and have a good Friday yourself!

    1. The 44th was on your list of suggested posts, I'm guessing that was based on it's participation in the Ploești raid and their CO's MoH. At least that's what I assumed when I saw them listed. I had no idea that they morphed into a missile wing and then into a fighter group. (Now with drones! - as an advertisement might say.)

      Thanks Juvat, enjoy your weekend (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas.

    2. I had no idea either, but then, outstanding units tend to do outstanding things. Yep, I recommended it for Ploesti and the MOH winners.

      Actually, taking the wife to a resort in San Antonio this weekend and hanging out by the pool, so Thanks.

    3. It's amazing the things one learns when one starts digging into a subject.

      One of the reasons I love doing the Flyby!

    4. Col Johnson went on to become Gen Johnson (AKA 4 stars), I'm pretty sure he never had to worry about his credibility with his subordinates.

    5. Yessir, four stars and that medal, carries a certain amount of weight, credibility-wise.

  2. Holloman's Raptors are all moving to Tyndall; the move, in fact, may already be complete. So... are they just flying drones now? The web failed to give me a definitive answer.

    1. DANG! Found out they were assigned there this morning and by mid-afternoon they'd been reassigned. All day I've been entertaining the idea of taking a short drive out to see one and now I can't.
      (Course I'm using OldAFSarge mileage. Short Drive is anything less than Half the distance across the state.YMMV RI 52.09/2= 26.45 mi TX 880/2=440 mi
      And as the Rev so graciously pointed out today AK 2000/2=1000 MI course you're swimming for most of that.)

    2. Dang.

      (Why heck yeah. Just a hop, skip and a jump, speaking Texan distances. Of course, a trip that long would seem like a trek to the moon for someone from Little Rhody!)

  3. Yep, the Navy's done that a time or two, except they tend to change the squadron numbers too... Nice post though, and quite a bit of history there! Thanks!

    1. I always learn something when I do these posts. I reckon that's a good thing.

  4. Thanks for posting this. How did those guys do it? I am amazed everytime i see something about them. So proud of my cousin who gave his all flying one of those machines in the European Theater. Will debrief in heaven.

    1. We have men like your cousin to thank for our freedom.

      When we all get there Dave, the first round is on me.

  5. Another great history lesson, er, post! Thanks. Your links to more pictures tell a story, no words needed.

    1. Thanks Greg. I learn a lot from doing these posts. It is most enjoyable.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.